Current Events

SXSW, Day Two Sunday

Part two in a continuing series. I was up late watching Ze Frank and his hilarious deconstruction of Airline Safety Seat Back Instructions (“So what does this mean? No interracial dating?“) and other general silliness. Compounded by the fact that 2am instantly became 3am I passed on the 10 am sessions and opted for a run by the river where I caught the Heart of Texas Regatta.

Lonelygirl15 Case Study

As they got into developing the concept, they realized that what they were doing was not unlike what Orsen Wells did with his War of the Worlds broadcast at the dawn of the radio age. The general public is not literate in internet video and how truth can be manipulated.

Even after it was discovered that Lonelygirl15 was a fictional character, people still tune into the site which has become an, “internet soap opera” with a following that is comprised of 70-80% female, most in their 20’s.

On the site, fans are encouraged to submit their own videos to add to the plotline. Fans take minor characters and expand them with their own backstory which the producers then roll into future episodes.

How do they make money? Product placement and videos hosted on Revver. They are also investigating more integrated promotions such as inviting viewers to go to and type in a tracking number to follow a package to delivery which will coincide with an event.

Keynote Conversation: Limor Fried / Phil Torrone

Photos and descriptions of various projects including:

Bacon-cooking Alarm Clock

Gummy Bear Chandelier

A 225 HP Monowheel

RFID-activated Flame-throwing trampoline

The OpenMoko – an open source cellphone

Plants that call you when you need to water them

Building an Online Fan Base

Lance Weiler walked us through the site for his movie, Head Trauma. A series of pages tell the story of the movie and at one point you are prompted to SMS a message to a number. Once you do, the site calls your cellphone and continues the narration of the site over your phone, augmenting the spooky music on the site. At one point, the voice on the phone asks you your “darkest secret” recording what you say into the receiver and then plays it back to you OVER YOUR COMPUTER SPEAKERS. It continues to loop what you said over and over again until, sufficiently chilled, you leave the site. The site monitors the clicks and knows when you leave the site so it then CALLS YOU BACK!

At this point the entire room let out an astonished gasp of horror.

Lance has a number of SEO tricks up his sleeve as well which he has documented for other filmmakers at his site,

People-Powered Projects – totally cool flash-based remixing console with social “favoriting” features thrown in to surface the best mixes.

Despite the fact that some of the most creative material is coming out of community-based sites such as flickr and JPG Magazine, getting “published” by a big-name publisher is still a mark of validation.



SXSW, Day One Saturday

It’s my first SXSW and I’ve kept off the laptop so that I can devote as much attention as possible to what’s going on in the sessions, conversations, and parties in between. I have been taking notes and for the benefit of readers (and just in case I misplace my notebook) I’ll dump them here in the next few posts.

Online Publishers & Ad Networks

Cody Simms (Yahoo!) points to very informative research report from Morgan Stanley. Direct Mail still a jaw-dropping 25% of the total advertising budget for the US.

Larry Allen (Tacoda) – Advertisers consider anything with comments as “user generated content” and are wary about having their messages appearing alongside anything they cannot vet in advance.

It bears watching how this view will impact advertising revenues alongside the recently launched USA Today redesign. Learned on the Trade Show floor that these comments are powered by the Pluck SiteLife product which has a broad agreement with the Gannett chain to power all their papers so I’m sure they are watching this closely too.

Bridging the Online Cultural Divide

People are using the web to either build a false persona or exaggerate an existing tendency. Like drunkards at a loud party, people take controversial things to get attention and traffic to their site. Add crude methods of monetization that are a derivative of your traffic and it only makes the problem worse.

Arguments online are often two dimensional where as in the face-to-face world they are more nuanced. The analog to this is modern politics where democracy boils down the candidate race to a yes/no vote – there is no room for grey and that is what polarizes us, pushing out more thoughtful discussion.

Under 18: Blogs, Wikis, and Online Social Networks for Youth

danah boyd – everything is moving towards mobile but you need cluster effects to really get things going. There is no such thing as a concept of “net neutrality” in the mobile world and the US carriers are just standing in the way.

The room erupted in spontaneous applause.

Kathy Sierra Opening Remarks

All apps have a Asperger’s Syndrome.  They cannot pick up on visual queues from their users such as when someone is angry, frustrated, or confused. If a user has these reactions to software, they quickly fall below the suck threshold.

Successful apps quickly push someone beyond the suck threshold and up beyond the passion threshold to a zone where users realize that they enjoy using an app because it helps them do things that have an impact in the offline world.

To prevent users from falling into the “canyon of pain” why not provide a WTF button. Allow users to tell you when they are lost and at wits end. Help and FAQs are for more reasoned times, it’s the happy tech support with the clipboard. A WTF situation is more dire, a time when you need to open with a “Don’t Panic” and speak to the user in a language they understand. Provide links to sections written in a conversational tone – user testing and feedback emails are a good source of the questions you need to answer.

There are two levels upon which a user can enjoy a product. High and Low resolution. A wine critic enjoys the, “subtle hints of tannin” in a fine bordeaux. A low resolution user (she used an example of Robert Scoble) enjoys the one-bit choice between red and white wine.

Web Hacks, Good or Evil

Kent Brewster (Yahoo!) showed off a number of simple hacks with links to how it was done. Badger will take the JSON output of any Yahoo! Pipes feed and turn it into a simple linkroll which you can put on your page. In such a world where information becomes ubiquitous and readily mashable, the only thing of value is attention. It is less a world where finding the information is the problem but more a world where efficient presentation is the key.

Pay Up! Should Publishers Choose the Porn Path?

The affiliate model is where the real money is made in the porn industry. The selling of subscriptions to “networks” of affiliated sites is the most advanced of these models. Mainstream media is only just now starting to catch on.  The Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Economist, MIT Technology Review are available as a “conglomerated membership” for a single price. (I would argue that services such as Factiva and Nexis have been offering this type of access for years).

Another model is where a mother site (i.e., NSFW) offers tools such as hosted galleries, pic of the day, and integrated RSS feeds so that affiliates can customize their own site and start feeding leads with a minimum of effort.

John Halcyon Styn on value – in the pre-internet days, “porn was more valuable than gold.” Now that it is readily available, the value comes from features such as interactivity and privileged access.

On design all panelists agreed that, for porn sites, the temptation for slick design should be suppressed.  Think of the audience. They want to find something “dirty” or “raw.” One panelist told the story of a non-profit that had their site refreshed and then saw their donations go down because their donors felt that if they had enough money for a smart looking website, they didn’t need their donations.

Mapping: Where the F#*% Are We Now?

Currently, mapping applications feed simple location data to your device. In the future, they will be able to layer additional metadata to provide a rich interaction. With GPS enabled, a mapping application can set up a two-way dialog with your mobile device.

Imagine a world where, when walking from one neighborhood to the next, the mapping application polls a crime statistics database and, upon entering a high-crime neighborhood, a heat device makes the back of your neck hotter.